Building a competitive off-road vehicle is different than building a musclecar or hot rod. That’s because these babies get used all the time and when we say used, we mean thrashed to hell on a dirt course for the major part of their existence, rebuilt over and over, and put away wet, so to speak. But for people like Darren and Darlene Henke of Golden, Colorado, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Having been in the off-road racing scene for three years now, the Henkes are what you might call a power couple. Not only is Darren the driver of the couple’s Ultra 4 vehicle, he’s also the devoted mechanic and builder, racing as a full-time gig and working out of his garage. Darlene also has her part in the couple’s pastime, acting as Darren’s co-driver at competitions, as well as supporting the racing goals the two have from start to finish.
“My wife is my main co-driver and we were one of the first to do that,” Darren said, explaining that only about three other Ultra 4 teams are currently headed by husband and wife duos.
If their names sound familiar, it’s probably because in addition to racing the entire Ultra 4 circuit, including the famous King of the Hammers competition in Southern California, the couple has ranked as one of the top 20 teams out of approximately 211 since they started competing three years ago!
At a very young age, Darren Henke was already developing his love for off-road motorsports. At age four, he got his first dirt bike and began competing shortly there after. As Darren grew, so did his enthusiasm for the off-road scene, and he progressed from trucks and Jeeps to buggies as he got older. But it wasn’t until 2002 that Darren really got into off-roading like he is now. It was that year, the Henkes moved out to Colorado, and their participation in the sport really took off.
Having worked at off-road events, Darren saw the perks of competing in the fast-paced off-road sport first-hand, and was convinced it was the ultimate path to follow. Not long after, Darren and Darlene started their team, DsquaredRacing.
“Originally, I was a vendor at the off-road events and grew tired of watching the races from the sidelines,” Darren told Off Road Extreme.“So the wife and I were gonna remodel the house with some savings we had, but decided racing was the way to go. Three years later the house is still untouched …”
A Familiar Stomping Ground
Recently, the Henkes’ brought their incredible Ultra 4 off-road competition vehicle to the RAM Off-Road Park in Colorado Springs for a photo shoot. Providing 86 acres of off-road heaven, from rock crawling areas to big-air jumps, RAM was certainly a blast to experience in the passenger seat of the Ultra 4. Of course, it helps that the Henkes’ vehicle is more than capable of tackling virtually every obstacle that RAM has to offer.
This vehicle has come together thanks to the Henkes’ dedication, as well as the support of their amazing sponsors. Not only is the Henkes’ truck sponsored by Advanced Adapters, Trent Fabrications (TrentFab), Spidertrax, ARB, King Shocks, Artec, PRP and RCV Performance; but the Henkes have also received the support they needed from companies such as Goodyear, Colorado Speed & Performance, Yukon Gear, Rugged Radios and Raceline Wheels.
Making Use Of Only The Best
As everyone who’s anyone in the off-road community knows, building a top-notch off-road vehicle begins with a high-performance chassis.
For their Ultra 4 vehicle, the Henkes opted to go with a Trent Fabrication 151 Proof Hybrid chassis. This is backed by upper triangulated 4-link suspension systems in both the front and rear, with the rear having the added benefit of aluminum-filled lower trailing arms.
The Henkes’ vehicle makes use of 2 ½-inch 7075 aluminum control arms up front while the rear has 1 ¾-inch aluminum-filled steel links. The shocks on the truck are 2 ½-inch King coilovers paired with 2 ½-inch triple bypasses, also from King. The suspension is topped off with a custom 35-spline rear swaybar.
Keeping the vehicle’s steering clear is a PSC double-ended hydraulic ram system. Compressors on board the Henkes’ vehicle include twin ARB high performance units, with an ARB locker and a separate air hook-up for running air tools or airing up the truck’s tires.
Giving the DsquaredRacing Ultra 4 vehicle plenty of braking power are 15-inch custom vented rotors paired with 4-piston Wilwood calipers. With all these high-performance chassis components, we think it’s safe to say that the Henkes are ahead of the game.
While the Henkes’ Ultra 4 chassis is quite impressive, no race rig is worth its weight in gold without a high-performance engine to match. So, while many of their competitors continue to make use of LS3 powerplants, the Henke’s upgraded to a 454ci LSX engine this summer and the results are amazing.
Equipped with a 92mm FAST throttle body, a Big Stuff 3 ignition and custom headers mated to a custom exhaust system with a flow-through Magnaflow muffler, the Ultra 4’s engine makes upwards of 600hp. But just like every intelligent competitor, Darren was tight-lipped with any other details.
Supporting the 454ci LSX engine is a TH400 transmission controlled by a California Performance Transmission (Art Carr) shifter. Behind the transmission, you’ll find a Driveline Specialist Heavy Wall FRT/RR driveshaft, a Dana 70 rear end, an ARB locker, and 35-spline chromolly axle shafts.
Just like the rearend, the Ultra 4 vehicle’s front end is stellar, making use of a Spidertrax Pro 9-inch with a Yukon third-member and RCV 300m axles.
All of the engine and drivetrain work has been handled by Darren, as well as Colorado Speed & Performance.
A Look That Sets ‘Em Apart
Being highly identifiable on the race course is an important aspect for any team and the Henkes took this into serious consideration when choosing their vehicle’s color scheme. Thanks to PGI Wraps, the couple’s vehicle announces their number and team name loud and proud in blue, yellow and white graphics atop lexan panels. The truck’s aesthetics are topped off with reflective numbers and letters that make the truck more visible during races after dark, as well as unique “tattoos” like the smilie faces and the letters “F” and “U” on the front bumper bar.
Inside the truck, the creature comforts are kept to a minimum with PRP Competition Pro seats, racing harnesses, a custom TrentFab fiberglass dash with carbon fiber overlay, Autometer gauges and a fiber optic switch panel being the only things between you and a bare vehicle cabin. For communications on the race course, the Henkes proudly use a Rugged Radio communication system with wireless co-driver capabilities.
“This car is almost completely different from when it was born 3 years ago,” Darren said. Over the last couple years, the Henke’s have replaced, modified or reworked the majority of their vehicle to make it as competitive as possible, and boy have they succeeded. But that’s not where their racing careers end.
“The talk around our campfire is to possibly race two cars next year,” Darren explained. “Darlene [would be] driving this one.”
With the prospect of another DsquaredRacing vehicle being announced, we can’t wait to see where the Henkes take their passion for off-road racing next!
You can follow the Henke’s Ultra 4 adventures on the DsquaredRacing Facebook page, and for more photos of the race rig, check out the Off Road Xtreme GALLERY below!